An influential pioneer in biomedical engineering, Professor Emeritus James B. Bassingthwaighte helped shape the discipline at the University of Washington and internationally.
Known for his mentorship, leadership, service and his kindness, Dr. Bassingthwaighte was an active teacher and scientist focused on bioengineering and quantitative and integrative approaches to modeling the physiology of the heart. As a professor of bioengineering with adjunct professor appointments in radiology and in biomathematics at the University of Washington, he forged innovative research programs focused on interactions among physiology, biophysics and bioengineering.
Dr. Bassingthwaighte joined UW in 1975 as director of the UW’s Center for Bioengineering, prior to its designation as a joint department in the College of Engineering and the School of Medicine. In 1979 he established the National Simulation Resource Facility for Circulatory Mass Transport and Exchange at the UW, a center for research and development of methods of modeling analysis of the circulation, kinetics of solute blood-tissue exchange and metabolic systems. Some of his notable contributions were in the interpretation of positron emission tomography (PET) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) images and in multiple studies on circulation and techniques to measure the amount of blood pumped by the heart. His scientific goals emphasized integrative approaches.
His National Simulation Resource program grew, and in 1997 he formally initiated the Physiome Project, a large-scale, on-going international collaborative effort to organize and integrate physiological knowledge from genome to integrated function. The project has advanced quantitative modeling of human physiology to improve understanding of physiological processes and provide the basis for effective therapies to treat disease.
He continued his active research into the later years of his life. In 2016, he headed a five-year NIH-funded multi-institutional research program, the Cardiac Energy Grid, to gain an integrated understanding of cardiac function in health and disease.
Honors and Service
In 2000, Dr. Bassingthwaighte was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in recognition of his contributions to integrative physiology and bioengineering using transport theory and computational methods. He was a fellow of both the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) and the International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering (IFMBE).
He served as President of the Biomedical Engineering Society and the Microcirculatory Society, chaired the Cardiovascular Section of the American Physiological Society, and was the Editor-in-chief of the Annals of Biomedical Engineering. He has been honored by BMES, the American Physiological Society, Maastricht University in the Netherlands, the Netherlands Biophysical Society, Cardiovascular Systems Dynamics Society, Microcirculatory Society, and McGill University, among others. He has authored over 300 peer-reviewed publications and two books, along with many lectures and contributions to other books.
He trained in physiology and biochemistry and then earned his medical degree from the University of Toronto. He studied at the Postgraduate Medical School of London and at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he completed a residency in Medicine and Cardiology and earned a Ph.D. in physiology. In 1964 he joined the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine faculty.
Dr. James B. Bassingthwaighte Endowed Faculty Fellowship in Bioengineering
In fall 2021, Dr. Bassingthwaighte created an endowment at UW to enhance the University’s ability to hire, retain and provide professional development opportunities for faculty in the Department of Bioengineering who specialize in quantitative integrative biology. The inspiration for this fellowship came from his desire to build on the successes of 30 years’ investment in the Physiome Project. The faculty fellowship will assist in recruiting and retaining excellent UW faculty who will continue this integrative work.
Anyone interested in making a gift honoring his legacy may donate to the newly established Dr. James B. Bassingthwaighte Endowed Faculty Fellowship in Bioengineering.
Cardiac Energy Grid collaborators Michael Regnier, UW professor of bioengineering, Andrew McCulloch of the University of California, San Diego, and Dan Beard of the University of Michigan are planning an online memorial/scientific symposium in honor of Dr. Bassingthwaighte, to be held Sept. 12. More information will be shared as it is available.
For more about Dr. Bassingthwaighte, read or listen to the IEEE History Center’s oral history interview.